Last Chance: Marco Polo Departs OB's Signature Oct. 25

News   Last Chance: Marco Polo Departs OB's Signature Oct. 25 If you want to hear how Marco Polo Sings a Solo, hurry to the Signature Theatre Company before this Sunday. The initial production in the company's retrospective season of playwright John Guare's work will close up shop on Oct. 25. The play began previews on Sept. 15 and officially opens Sept. 27. The production featured Polly Holliday, Bruce Norris, Tony winner Chuck Cooper, Judith Hawking and Beeson Carroll. The director will be Mel Shapiro, who staged the original New York Shakespeare Festival production of Marco Polo, which starred Madeline Kahn, Sigourney Weaver, Joel Grey and Anne Jackson.

If you want to hear how Marco Polo Sings a Solo, hurry to the Signature Theatre Company before this Sunday. The initial production in the company's retrospective season of playwright John Guare's work will close up shop on Oct. 25. The play began previews on Sept. 15 and officially opens Sept. 27. The production featured Polly Holliday, Bruce Norris, Tony winner Chuck Cooper, Judith Hawking and Beeson Carroll. The director will be Mel Shapiro, who staged the original New York Shakespeare Festival production of Marco Polo, which starred Madeline Kahn, Sigourney Weaver, Joel Grey and Anne Jackson.

Marco Polo follows film director Stony McBride as he films an epic about the life of Marco Polo and, along the way, finds truth of the cusp of the 20th century.

The second Guare of the season -- Bosoms and Neglect -- will open Dec. 1, under the direction of Nicholas Martin, recently tapped to helm Christopher Durang's latest at Playwrights Horizons. The original Broadway production of Bosoms starred Kate Reid as a domineering, if bedridden, matriarch and lasted three days. Anne Meara appeared in the revival which enjoyed a longer run. In a 1997 interview with Playbill On Line, playwright Paula Vogel cited Bosoms as one of the more influential and devastating experiences in her years of going to the theatre.

The Signature Theatre Company will conclude its by performing, in repertory, the four plays of the authors "Nantucket" series. The news was announced by Guare himself at a Sept. 14 welcoming ceremony at the Signature, and first reported by the New York Times on Sept. 18. No dates are set, and the whole venture is still pending approval from Actors' Equity, said a spokesman at press rep James Morrison's office.

The "Nantucket" series follows a group of idealistic 19th century characters and their attempts to create a utopian society. The plays include Gardenia, Lydie Breeze, Women in Water and the recently completed The Book of Judith, which will have its premiere at the Signature. The acting company, yet to be cast, will perform all four plays in repertory. Alan Eisenberg, executive director of Equity, said that Signature hasn1t yet approached Equity on the matter. "Common sense suggests we1ll negotiate a repertory contract with the Signature," he told PBOL. "It1s not a unfamiliar concept to us. We have repertory in the LORT {League of Resident Theatres] contract."

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Signature Theatre announced in May that this season will be devoted to plays by John Guare, while `99-00 will honor Maria Irene Fornes. Though Guare is considered a more commercial playwright, due mainly to the Broadway success of The House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation, both dramatists tend to veer from familiar topics and structures.

Guare told the NY Times he also expects to world premiere a play that will complete his "Nantucket Trilogy," which he termed, "My 20th century novel plays." His libretto for Two Gentlemen of Verona won a Tony in 1972.

Fornes is the more experimental dramatist, having worked Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway for 30 years. Her latest play, The Summer in Gossenssass, looked at the influence of Hedda Gabler on the women of its generation. Other Fornes plays include Mud, Fefu And Her Friends, Abingdon Square, Terra Incognita and The Conduct of Life.

Signature artistic director James Houghton said of Fornes, "Here is a writer who has in a major way contributed to the theatrical richness of the Off-Broadway movement. Putting together a season for Irene gives us a chance to develop a context for her."

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As for the company's 10th anniversary season (2000-01), Houghton is bringing back the nine previous playwrights, each with a world-premiere play. The artistic director told the Times he had commitments for new plays from Guare, Edward Albee, Horton Foote, Lee Blessing and Romulus Linney. He also expected works from Adrienne Kennedy, Sam Shepard and Arthur Miller. Spokesperson James Morrison told Playbill On-Line, "Clearly it'll be impossible to do 10 shows within a season as full productions. I figure Jim would want to pair up some of the plays, such as an evening of three one-acts."

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Signature devoted its 1997-98 season to Arthur Miller. In a press conference inaugurating the company's first year in its new home on West 42nd St., artistic director Jim Houghton told the assembled, "We searched for four years and over 250 spaces for a home. We'd really wanted the Provincetown Playhouse but that fell through. Then we talked to Eric Krebs, who started doing renovation on this space a year ago. He asked if we were ready to continue the renovations and take over, so we did [for a 14-year lease]. Also helping was a $1.5 million capital campaign, $1 million of which was raised very quickly, thanks especially to the Laura Pels Foundation." The space is 45' X 85' with an 22' grid height, equipped with air conditioning, wheelchair accessibility and concessions facility.

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Founded in 1991, Signature Theatre Company spent its first six seasons focusing on the works of Blessing, Linney, Albee, Foote, Kennedy and Shepard respectively. (One of the Foote plays premiered there, The Young Man From Atlanta, went on to receive the Pulitzer Prize and have a Broadway engagement.)

Four seasons ago, the company was housed at the (now vanished) 77-seat theatre at Kampo Cultural Center downtown. `95-97 saw them at the Public Theatre space. Producer and owner of the West 42nd St. space, Eric Krebs has stated, "Playwright John Ford Noonan said to me, `You know why I like Signature Theatre Company? -- They give working playwrights hope.'"

For memberships and information on the Signature Theatre season call (212) 244-PLAY.

-- By Harry Haun
and David Lefkowitz and - Robert Simonson

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